The draw could have been tougher with sides like Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, AC Milan and Red Bull Leipzig all lurking in the in the seeded group, but it could also have been a lot easier.
With ex-Man City manager and Premier League winner Roberto Mancini at the helm, you know that Zenit will be set up well tactically well. With experienced players like former Chelsea centre back Branislav Ivanovic and former Dinamo Moscow attacker Aleksandr Kokorin, who put one past Tony Mowbray’s Celtic all the way back in 2009, the Zenit players will feel as though they have enough experience to handle the occasion.
Furthermore, despite a rocky start to their European campaign which saw them qualify for the Europa League by the skin of their teeth, they absolutely smashed the group stages dropping points only to Rosenborg in a 1-1 draw.
The fact that it was Brendan’s Bhoys who sent Rosenborg tumbling into the Europa League might give some fans heart that the squad is at the required level to handle the tie.
However, that’s not all that fans have to take encouragement from.
At the start of the season Zenit were flying high, their league form this season has been patchy, at one point going five league games without a victory. Although they have since recovered winning four of their last five, Zenit have shown that they do have some weaknesses in their team who currently sit third in the Russian top flight. On top of that, they also have just one game to play before they stop for the 3-month winter break in Russia compared to Celtic and Scottish Football’s three-week break.
The three months that Zenit will face out in the cold could work in Celtic’s favour, as three months without competitive football can cause a team to lose their match sharpness. Make no mistake about it though, Zenit are still very much the favourites going into the tie.
Despite securing European football after Christmas via the Europa League, which let’s face it, considering the group we had is a fantastic achievement – Celtic didn’t leave the competition on the high that we were hoping for.
I think it’s fair to say that although we remain unbeaten domestically, as well as producing a superb performance in Belgium against Anderlecht and in the home game against the mighty Bayern Munich; Celtic haven’t felt as imperious as they did last season. Losing 1-0 at home to Anderlecht could have been the result of players becoming complacent but we also know that Brendan wants the same as the fans do; he wants 100%, 100% of the time.
It’s going to take everything the players have got to progress but if they can improve on recent form, and go into the game with some match sharpness and the belief that they can win; then I for one see no reason why Celtic can’t make it to the last 16 of the competition and beyond.
The last time Zenit faced a Scottish team they ran out Europa League winners, let’s show them that the BEST TEAM in Scotland aren’t rolled over as easily.